Hey guys! Today we have a Q&A with Jade from Digital Nomad Design about what RVing in Europe is like. Jade has lived out of an RV for two years, traveling all around Europe. I hope you enjoy!
Jade’s background and why she chose to RV in Europe:
Hi, my name is Jade, and my husband Oli and I are from the UK. After university, we spent a few years living and working in Asia. We loved the expat lifestyle, but we missed being close to friends and family back home.
We decided to jump on the vanlife bandwagon and buy a campervan (RV). This way, we could satisfy our wanderlust by travelling around Europe and still be a quick flight or a slightly longer drive back to England. We bought the campervan in January 2018 and we haven’t looked back since!
RV, Campervans, Motorhomes — what’s the difference?
While most people use the terms interchangeably, campervans are usually the smaller variety, motorhomes are larger and more purpose-built and RV is the American term!
Should you rent or buy your campervan?
Renting is a great place to start. Living out of a campervan really is a lifestyle choice and it certainly isn’t for everyone. Renting means you can try it out for a while to see how you like it. You can also try different kinds of campers: Big, small, off-grid — there are so many different types of RVs. If you rent and decide you love travelling by campervan, then buying your own is worth every penny.
We bought our campervan despite having never rented or travelled together in one before. My dad has had caravans and motorhomes since I was a child though, so I was already well-versed in campervan life.
What’s driving in Europe with an RV like? Is the RV ever too big for the narrow street?
I definitely think that if you are coming to Europe to rent or buy a camper, then go smaller!
That being said, that are all manner of roads and motorways in Europe so it really depends where you are going and what kind of vehicle you have. As we were going to be living full time in our camper, we specifically bought something larger to have more room. We love the space, but it is just that little bit too large for the kinds of smaller mountain roads that we drive so often. Interestingly, it is the width of our motorhome that is often the most inconvenient, rather than the length.
What are some of your best tips for someone planning their European RV itinerary?
The one thing that everyone should keep in mind, though, is to Try and stick to a region. Don’t try to rush to every corner of Europe to ‘see it all’. Europe is so diverse, so your Europe road trip itinerary will be personal to how you like to travel and what you’d like to see. Pick an area – maybe based on weather or geography or culture – then explore that area thoroughly. You don’t want to spend your Europe road trip on the motorway!
What are some of the best things about living and traveling in an RV in Europe?
The choice of travel destinations across Europe is astounding. Despite travelling over 20,000 miles these last 2 years, we feel we’ve barely scratched the surface of what Europe has to offer.
Being able to see all of these beautiful and diverse places is made all the better by having a home to come back to at the end of the day. Not only do you save money on hotels and eating out, but there is something magical about having your home comforts with you while you are exploring.
For us, though, the very best thing is the access to nature. We spend most of our time in the mountains and travelling in a campervan in the Alps or the Dolomites often means parking right at trailheads and with unhindered views of stunning peaks.
What are some of the worst things?
Interestingly, one of the worst things about travelling in an RV in Europe is what I already stated as one of the best: the choice! It’s amazing how often we feel overwhelmed by the abundance of choice in where to go and what to see. It’s a great problem to have, of course, but it does lead to some silly cases of FOMO.
To be honest, the worst things about travelling this way in Europe are probably the same as travelling in an RV anywhere. The most notable for us has been the expense of the upkeep. For a multitude of reasons, we have had many things go wrong with the campervan that has meant shelling out for repairs and replacements. Things go wrong with vehicles and items break in houses. Put the two together and you can imagine how frustrating it is, especially when you are on the road.
The other difficult travlling by camper in Europe is finding the right place to stay. As we are doing this full time, we cannot afford to stay in campsites every night. While ‘free camping’ is perfectly fine in many places in Europe, it is illegal or frowned upon in others. It takes up a lot of time and energy just finding a place to park overnight that is beautiful and feels safe.
Which companies can you rent RVs from?
A company that we’ve seen frequently around Europe is Indie Campers. They are based in Portugal but have depots in more than 30 locations across the UK and Europe.
If you are headed to the UK and want a really unique campervan experience, then Quirky Campers is the way to go. These are all self-built and each camper is totally unique. When we finally build our own campervan one day, we’ll be looking at these for inspiration!
Travelling by camper in Iceland is also really popular and I’ve heard great things about Cozy Campers.
Are there RV buyback programs?
Not that I know of. However, it is very common to buy and sell used campervans on eBay and Gumtree. One day we’d love to travel around the Americas in an RV and we will probably buy one there and sell it on when we leave.
How much does living and traveling in an RV cost?
Again, this will totally depend on where you go and what you are doing when you get there. We are terrible budget trackers, but I would say we spend an average of 1,000 euros per month between the two of us.
To keep costs down, we try not to drive too much, we wild camp rather than stay in campsites, and we enjoy free activities like hiking and swimming. Our biggest expense is food and delicious local beers!
Are there road tolls in every country?
Thankfully, there aren’t tolls in every country in Europe. Even in those places known for their high road tolls, like France, there are also alternative routes without tolls. Other countries, like Austria, have a vignette system for the motorways which is essentially a sticker on your windshield.
If you want to go toll-free, you’ll likely drive on smaller roads through more towns. This often means a slower and longer drive, and therefore you should weigh up the costs of gas with the value of the tolls.
How much does maintaining the vehicle cost?
RV maintenance is another thing that varies wildly, van to van and person to person. Your maintenance expenses depend on where you go and when. For example, a bottle of gas, which we use for cooking and heating, will last for months in the summer but only a week in the winter when it’s cold.
To save money on maintenance, you should travel in summer, to warm destinations, and stay on easy, paved roads!
Always have an emergency fund for when things do go wrong and break. A bit of DIY and mechanical knowledge, plus a few simple tools, is a good idea for travelling in an RV.
How do you cook?
Our campervan has a built-in kitchen with all the amenities, including an oven! We also have a BBQ and a cast-iron pot for cooking outside in the summer.
One of the things we love about having our rolling kitchen on our travels is visiting local markets and finding lots of delicious local and seasonal ingredients to cook with. We don’t eat out very often but we still feel like we get the local foodie experience this way.
What’s the best way to get internet access in an RV?
We have a UK sim-only phone plan that allows us 60 days of free-roaming across Europe. After that ran out, we got a local SIM card with a data plan. We also have a 4G router that we use to tether our laptops to, and this doesn’t have a data cap.
What’s the best way to navigate? Are there any apps you recommend?
We use Google Maps for navigation as it is where store all our favourite spots and pins of where we’d like to go. If we are travelling long distances in places that we don’t know, we might switch to Waze as it has speed camera notifications. We also use the park4night app to find places to stay, which links with google maps for navigation.
How do you keep your RV safe?
Our campervan came fitted with a special alarm system and extra locks for the doors. At first, we were very vigilant about leaving these on when we left the camper, but more often than not we now just use the regular locks and make sure we park somewhere that generally feels safe. We do have a safe inside the van where we store our electronics and passports, which gives us great peace of mind.
Are there any important documents you should carry?
Passing over borders in Europe is incredibly quick and easy, and you often don’t need to stop at all. However, always have your passports, driving licenses and vehicle documents accessible if you do have to stop.
Any other tips for traveling Europe by RV?
The best piece of advice I can give is to remember there is no right way to travel. The joy of travelling in your own rolling home is that you can do things your way, you can go where you want to go without following the tourist trail and you can follow your passions. Get out there and explore at your own pace!
Thanks so much, Jade!